Ten Strategies to Make Oakland Better
But first, a reminder: Join MOBN!, MGO, nine mayoral candidates and more than 200 of your fellow Oaklanders at the mayoral candidate public safety debate on Thursday, April 3, 2014, 6:30 p.m. at Temple Sinai. See the original announcement here. Owing to some technical problems at Eventbrite, some Oaklanders have received the message that they can’t RSVP without selecting membership in either MOBN! or MGO. Some have received the message that the event is “sold out.” Our publicist has fixed both these problems; the debate is open to all Oaklanders, not just MOBN! and MGO members, and while enthusiasm is mounting, the debate is certainly not “sold out” ( the synagogue holds 750 people). And RSVP’s are appreciated, but not essential. So RSVP if you can, but either way, please join us.
And Now, Strategy Two:
Ask The People Who Live And Work Here
Make Oakland Better Now! was established to advocate for public safety, public works, government transparency, accountability and budget Reform. Often, however, we are recognized simply as advocates for increasing the size of the Police Department. While we stand by our position that Oakland desperately needs 925 sworn officers, much more is needed to make Oakland the city its residents want and deserve. This is the second installment in our ten part series on steps Oakland can and should take to make this a better, safer and more sustainable city. For our second strategy, we advocate well-designed, regular polling of Oakland’s citizens, sworn and civilian employees.
In early 2010, then Police Chief Anthony Batts hired a consultant to design and conduct two public opinion surveys. One was directed to members of the community and one to Police Department employees. Results of both were made available to the public and remain partially available here (this is the 2010 draft OPD Strategic Plan – see pages 6, 7, 14, 15, 25, 34 and 35).
Not surprisingly, the surveys found much that needed to be fixed. Less than half of those surveyed believed the OPD was effective at controlling violent crime, gang violence, drug crime, gun violence and burglaries. 31% held a very unfavorable or somewhat unfavorable view of the department. 50% or fewer credited the department as good or excellent when it came to follow up, response time, problem solving, service quality and fairness.
Employees of the department held similarly negative views. As Chief Batts summarized the findings,
Most Department employees felt that they were not valued or respected, and that the Department did not care about them. Most also felt their work units were not adequately staffed, and did not feel career development was good.
Perhaps most importantly, only about one‐third of the Department’s employees felt that OPD was doing a good job. Less than half felt OPD had a good reputation, and just over half were satisfied with their jobs.
These findings nearly 4 years ago should have been cause for major alarm. They should have resulted in a major turnaround plan, directed from the top. And the execution on that turnaround plan should have been followed by additional survey work measuring whether the plan had worked.
Instead, Chief Batts left. The city has seen incremental changes, but no comprehensive measures. And a recent poll sponsored by MOBN! and other community groups found that 81% of Oakland residents agreed with the following statement: “The strained relationship between police officers and many Oakland residents gets in the way of fighting crime and protecting our neighborhoods.”
Last fall, the OPD designed its own polls of officers and the public. The results of the officer poll were not released to either the officers or the public, and when it finally was released in response to Public Records Requests by the East Bay Express and Make Oakland Better Now!, the reason for the silence became obvious. As the Express reported:
65 percent of OPD’s sworn officers reported not feeling valued by the department for the work they do. In addition, 55 percent of officers said they do not “feel valued by the citizens” of Oakland. And most Oakland cops have little faith in their own commanders. One survey question asked, “Do you believe commanders/managers treat members/employees fairly in the organization?” 64 percent of Oakland’s cops responded “no.”
More than half of the city’s police officers also do not believe “that hard work and good work performance helps one get ahead,” within OPD, and some officers say that the agency has become the “laughing stock” of law enforcement agencies. . . . A whopping 84 percent of cops said they do not feel valued by the rest of Oakland city government.
Meanwhile, the City has remained silent about the online citizens’ survey it initiated last September. MOBN! has submitted a public records request for the responses and compilations, and we will report those when we receive them.
Oakland deserves better than this. Oakland deserves annual, scientifically valid surveys of a genuinely representative number of its residents and its public safety employees to look at and evaluate OPD performance and police/community relations.
These public opinion surveys and employee surveys should not be limited to the Police Department. We join in the recent recommendation of Oakland’s Budget Advisory Committee that there should be annual surveys testing the public’s views about the importance of every city service. Beyond the BAC recommendation, we believe residents’ opinions should also be heard on how well the city is doing in delivering those services. And city employees should likewise be surveyed concerning their views on how services could be best and most efficiently provided. Of course, the results of all of these surveys should be easily and readily accessible to the public.
It is easy to find enlightened and well-run cities who use citizen’s surveys: Concord, California (although Concord has apparently only done this once); Walnut Creek, California; Baltimore, Maryland (an annual survey as part of the budget process); and Phoenix, Arizona (a biennial citizen attitude survey) are just a few examples.
So that is our second strategy for making Oakland better: regular surveys of Oakland residents and employees and regular follow-up on the results of those surveys.